Lawyers travelling to Italy on business: do I need a visa?

Marco Mazzeschi discusses the visa options available for foreign lawyers travelling to Italy on business.

Visa-free business travel

Many non-EU citizens can travel to Italy for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa as Italy is in the Schengen area.

(The EU has a common list of countries: (a) whose citizens must have a visa when crossing the external borders and (b) whose citizens are exempt from that requirement. These lists are set out in Regulation (EU) 2018/1806EN.)

During this period of stay, visitors can carry out standard ‘business activities’ without a visa or work permit, which include:

  • executing contracts
  • conducting negotiations

However, any activities that cannot be qualified as ‘business’ and therefore fall under the definition of ‘work’ would require a visa, regardless of the length of stay.

How to count your Schengen 90 days

Company sponsored work visas

Non-EU citizens who wish to live and work in Italy for more than 90 days must obtain a long-term visa.

The hiring of non-EU workers by Italian companies is subject to annual government quotas, but some work visas are not subject to quota limitations, namely:

  • blue card permits
  • intra-company permits
  • assignment under a service agreement

EU Blue card permit

This allows Italian companies to hire directly “highly skilled workers”, meaning those who:

  • have a three-year university diploma
  • are offered a minimum one-year contract, and
  • earn at least €25,000 per year

Intra-company permits

You can get a work visa if you’re an employee of a foreign company that has a subsidiary or an affiliate (a company part of the same group) in Italy.

These permits last for a maximum of three or five years.

During the assignment, you must remain hired by the sending company. However, the work permit application must be filled by the Italian branch of the company.

This visa does not apply to contractors.

Assignment under a service agreement

You can also apply for a work visa when a foreign company and an Italian company have executed a service agreement that requires some of the foreign company’s employees to be posted in Italy to carry out specialised works or quality controls.

The work permit application must be filed by the Italian company but the worker must remain hired by the foreign company.

This visa does not apply to contractors.

Visa options for non-sponsored individuals

Self-employee visas

Freelancers can apply for self-employee visas.

The visa is subject to Italy’s quota system which is fixed annually. Not all self-employment categories are available each year.

Elective residence visa (ERV)

If you want to live in Italy without working, the elective residence visa requires applicants to:

  • have a passive income (not deriving from work or salary) of at least €31,000 per year
  • have suitable accommodation

Investors’ visa

To gain an investors’ visa, you’ll need to either:

  • purchase €2 million in Italian government bonds (to be kept for at least two years)
  • invest € 500,000 in a company or € 250,000 in an "innovative startup"; or
  • donate €1 million to philanthropic projects of public interest

Learn more about the tax incentives for this visa

Create your own “start-up” company

This visa is for non-EU nationals intending to set up an innovative start-up business.

You'll need to:

  • prove the availability of at least € 50,000 to be used for the sole purpose of establishing and running the start-up
  • submit a detailed business plan to the relevant government authorities

Digital nomad visa

In March 2022, the Italian government approved a digital nomad visa.

Further legislation is required to launch the visa and clarify the specific requirements and procedures.

Find out more about how the visa will work

Can I work remotely from Italy without a work visa?

Italy does not have any specific legislation prohibiting remote working by foreign nationals.

However, guidance issued by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through its visa questionnaire for foreign visitors states that a work visa is required whether the work is for local or foreign clients.

Find out more about working remotely from Italy

In addition, guidelines published by the Italian Consulates of San Francisco and Los Angeles state that holders of the elective residence visa cannot do any kind of work while in Italy, including remote work for foreign clients.

From a strict legal point of view, it seems that foreign nationals working in Italy require a work visa even if they are only working for clients based outside of Italy.

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS